SOUTHLAKE -- City police officers and firefighters held a forum Thursday to encourage residents to vote for the state civil service system, which they believe would bring fairness to the city's Department of Public Safety.
If the measure passes May 10, state law would replace city policy for hiring, promotions, salaries, disciplinary matters, and other personnel issues for police officers and fire fighters.
The ballot question has become divisive in this upscale city. Both the City Council and Southlake Chamber of Commerce oppose the measure. A political action committee, Southlake Citizens for Good Local Government, has been formed to defeat it. Another political action committee, Citizens for Professional Fire and Police, supports it.
Civil service supporters addressed residents' concerns Thursday at the Hilton Hotel in Southlake Town Square. About 50 residents attended the hour-and-a-half forum, which was hosted by the Southlake Police Officers Association and the Southlake Firefighters Association. State law enforcement officials also attended, to help educate residents on civil service.
City Manager Shana Yelverton and City Finance Director Sharen Jackson attended the forum Thursday but did not speak.
"I was just here to listen," Yelverton said after the forum ended.
What supporters and critics of civil service said at Thursday's forum:
Critics of the statute have said civil service will increase the city's personnel costs, remove local government control and unionize the city's public safety department. Neither representatives of the City Council nor the Chamber of Commerce, which both oppose the measure, spoke at the forum.
Barbara Walker, a 25-year resident: "Southlake is an incredible place to live," she said. "I find it troublesome that every time civil service is introduced it there's division. I'm quite troubled by the division it could create."
Randal Kuykendall, director of public affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association said there are five Texas communities with civil service propositions in the May 10 election, "and this is the only city that opposition has formed. There are no statutory ties to collective bargaining or civil service."
Zoe Courtney, a 21-year resident: "I want to speak in total support of civil service. It's important to have a level playing field for police and firefighters. You guys have to make split-second decisions and I'd like to have a system in place for you to explain that decision.
Andy Anderson, president of the Southlake Police Officers Association: "We just want a fair set of standards and objectives that we can depend on. Collective bargaining is not what we're about."
Resident Lisa Stokdyk called the debate 'Mayberry politics:' "I am dismayed we have the City Council involved in this, it should be left to the citizens. I'm dismayed to see the chamber of commerce involved; I don't think its their dog fight."
Resident Jack Luna, treasure of the pro-civil service political action committee Citizens for Professional Fire and Police: "I'm shocked no City Council member and no member of the chamber is here," he said. "We just recently lost an officer to another city with civil service, and he took his K-9 dog with him; now the police department has no K-9 dog. I recommend you do your own homework and make your own decision."
Ryan Sessums, president of the Southlake Firefighters Association: "Right now if I appeal discipline, it is directly to the person who issued the disciplined in the first place," he said. But "we will be professional whatever the citizens decide."